by BARBARA W. TUCHMAN
Average Customer Review:
(06 September, 1989)
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"It is not necessary to hope, in order to persevere"
As a history of the American Revolution focused on the sea war, one of its least known aspects, "The First Salute" is a very interesting analysis, but definitely not the best book by Barbara Tuchman.
The role of the sea in the unfolding events has been always considered marginal in the final outcome of the struggle. By describing the first official salute to the United States of America fired by the Dutch port of St.Eustatius in the west Indies in 1776, Mrs. Tuchman stresses the importance of smuggling in sustaining the first phases of the conflict, the role and importance of an American naval force and, in the end, the decisive weight of French naval supremacy in the siege of Yorktown.
A certain weakness can be perceived in the unevennessand disproportion in treating the matter at hands (the Dutch Rebellion takes about 3 chapters, the Seven Years War about 2, two chapters are dedicated to the creation of the Us navy, one to the biography of Admiral Rodney, while the last four chapters are a rather average description of the last stages of the war).
Actually what I liked most was the new fascinating perspective you can command from this approach.
By analyzing the similarities with the Dutch Rebellion (a remark shared with Benjamin Franklin), she can reconsider the American war in a full European context: not just a debate on "philosophical" principles (taxation and representation, freedom of conscience, free trade), but alsoa byproduct of the new precarious balance followed to the Seven Years War (the waning of French treat in Canada, the mortification and wish of revenge of the French monarchy), and the mark of the underground conflict in England between conservative Tories and progressive Whigs (implicit in England, made explicit in the Colonies), that would in the end turn back on the continent andinitiate the age of democratic revolution in Europe.
So was the American a true Revolution?
Probably not. Better to be described as the American Rebellion, its successful outcome was decisive in spreading the great hopes of change nurtured by the European Enlightenment, but in the end - like the Dutch- it contented with the reaffirmation of offended rights never proposing officially a brave new man like the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions.
Very interesting is also the glance cast on the parallel history of the two rebellions: the likeness of William the Silent with Washington, the nature of defensive war, the uneven weight of the forces (both Dutch and Colonies were forced to fight against the strongest superpower of their age), the intestine war (Flanders vs. Holland, American Tories vs. Rebels), the resemblance of the Dutch Act of Rejection and the Declaration of Independence, the actual outcome in the model offederal government.
As a reader, I'm more interested in the political debate than in the actual story of the American Revolution. If you kept reading up to here, maybe you can be interested in other essays directly related to the argument, I had the chance to read in the past:
-"The Long Affair : Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800" by Conor Cruise O'Brien, by far one of the best books on Jefferson (see review) -
-"A few Bloody Noses - The American War of Independence" by Robert Harvey (columnist, editor and former British MP ), an appraisal of the war from an all British point of view. Interesting but average.
-"Readcoats and Rebels. The war for America 1770-1781" by Christopher Hibbert, a popular historian. Average but extremely readable.
You are truly welcome ifyou can suggest other readings or just share ideas and comments!
Thanks for reading.
Bravo for her rousing explanation of Dutch history!
The best part of this book is Mrs. Tuchman's salute to the formidable ingenuity of the Dutch people.When Tsar Peter the Great decided at the dawn of the 18th century that it was time to bring Russia into the modern world, where's the first place he visited?The shipyards of Holland!He wanted to learn from the masters of the greatest trading nation on earth, with their fleet of 10,000 ships.
The inhabitants of the Netherlands, by might and main, had wrested their land from the ocean.They never stopped pumping water!Our first ambassador, John Adams, called their country "the greatest curiosity in the world...It is like no other.It is all the Effect of Industry, and the Work of Art..."
But the most important period in Dutch history to understand are the eighty years (1568-1648) of resistance against the domination of Spain, then the most powerful nation in the world.Rembrandt, their greatest artist, was born in the middle of that period.So was Peter Stuyvesant, who lost his leg fighting against the Spaniards in the Caribbean (he's buried in New York City's Bowery).Also born at this time: the Dutch East India Company.By 1700 they had gained control of the cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg trade.
Mrs. Tuchman speaks of the 1581 Oath of Abjuration (the Dutch Declaration of Independence), the defeat of the Spanish Armada later in that decade, and the importance of two events in 1609 -- the discovery of the Hudson River ("America's Rhine") and the founding of the Bank of Amsterdam.
It's sad that nowadays the Netherlands seem to have fallen so far, as they embrace euthanasia and other destructive notions...
[I hadn't realized that Mrs. Tuchman's family played such a large role in recent American history: her grandfather was Henry Morgenthau Sr., who was President Wilson's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire; her uncle served as FDR's secretary of the treasury; and her father, Maurice Wertheim, bought "The Nation" magazine from the pacifist Oswald Garrison Villard.Barbara went off to Madrid in the late 1930s to cover the Spanish Civil War for "The Nation."]
In The First Salute, A View of the American Revolution, Tuchman attempts to provide new insight to America's war for independence.While she does cover lesser-known events and people, her topic choices are too far removed to be understood unless by historians who wish to concentrate solely on the British aspect.More emphasis is placed on Admiral Rodney and his adventures in the West Indies that any other figure of the era.Few chapters deal directly with the War in the colonies, instead the story centers on naval considerations and British holdings in the area.While these has residual effects on the American Revolution and may be able to entertain, the title is grossly misleading.
Readers who have no preconceived connection with the American Revolution directly or with are seeking a predominantly British view are encouraged to read The First Salute as it is well written, informative and entertaining. Do not be fooled by the title though.While it connects with the American Revolution, its scope only scratches that surface.
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